Forbes 2018: 10 Highest Paid NBA Players By Off-Court Endorsement Earnings

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Left to Right: Dwyane Wade, Kevin Durant
and
Damian Lillard

A huge reason why there are 40 basketball (NBA) players on the Forbes 2018 Highest Paid Athletes List is the huge contracts that the franchises in the league can afford to give out. A spike in every team's salary cap can be credited to the league's new TV deal, something that got implemented into the team's cap in 2016 and saw it jump from $70 million to $94 million.

But that isn't the only money the players receive. NBA is among the most followed pro sports league in the world, so a lot of brands want to invest in these players to diversify and enlarge the reach, impact and eventually sales of their company.

So, there is a lot of endorsement money also present in the league and a majority of the players in the league earns at least close to a million through endorsements but just like the player salaries, there are some who earn far more than the rest.

Here we rank the Top 10 highest paid NBA Players through endorsements:

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#10 Klay Thompson - $13 Million

2018 NBA Finals - Game One
Klay Thompson

Major Sponsors - Anta Sports Products, Body Armor, BMW Group, Electronic Arts, Fanatics

Klay Thompson's player salary alone doesn't rank him high on any list but playing in the Bay Area certainly takes his brand value. The 3-time NBA Champion earned $13 million from June 1, 2017 to June 1, 2018 through endorsements, a large part of which comes from his most recent 10-year shoe deal with Anta Sports Products.

While on a multi-city tour of China last year, Klay signed this extension with Anta that keeps him with the company till 2026. The deal is expected to be around $80 million provided the sharpshooter meets certain incentives.

Given the success, he tasted once again in 2018 as the Golden State Warriors swept the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Finals, expect him to be much higher on this list next year.

#9 Giannis Antetokounmpo - $13 Million

Milwaukee Bucks v New York Knicks
Giannis Antetokounmpo

Major Sponsors - Nike, Tissot and Bank of Montreal

Giannis Antetokounmpo might not have won a championship(s) like Klay but the formula for most of the players on this list remains the same - success on the court translates to money off the court. And Antetokounmpo, who averaged 26.9 points per game last season, has increased his scoring average by at least four through each of his first five seasons in the league.

The "Greek Freak" would not have been on the list last year but his new Nike deal, which is slated to give him $9 million each year, is said to be a huge part of his new increased net worth. The deal is expected to give more when the company launches his first signature sneaker in 2019.

Being the face of a franchise in a small market, Giannis also deals with BMO Harris and Kronos Foods. Not to mention, the several others he has back home in Greece.

#8 Damian Lillard - $13 Million

Portland Trail Blazers v New Orleans Pelicans - Game Three
Damian Lillard

Major Sponsors - Adidas, Toyota Motor, Powerade, Tapestry and Panini

According to Forbes, Damian Lillard earns the same amount through endorsements that Giannis Antetokounmpo and Klay Thompson earn. We have simply kept their player salaries as the next filter for the sake of ranking them.

As mentioned above, Lillard endorses multiple brands but just like any of the basketball players in his tier, the shoe company pays the most. Adidas, who released Lillard's fourth signature shoe - The Dame 4 - pays him in double-figures for using him to sell their sneakers. And that amount is well earned as the sales on Lillard's shoes are among the best in the league.

A well-respected rapper, Lillard has two full-length albums (the second came out in 2017) to his name which is bound to get him a decent sum of money as well.

#7 Dwyane Wade - $14 Million

Miami Heat v Philadelphia 76ers
Dwyane Wade

Major Sponsors - Panini, Gatorade, New Era, Hublot, Li Ning Company Limited

Dwyane Wade's career arc might be headed downwards but that's certainly not the case when it comes to earnings off the court. Obviously, athletically he's not as able as he was in the previous decade but he's made use of his time in the league to find new ways of creating partnerships that could be fruitful.

He's 35 years old but ranks 7th.

Just like every player on this list, a majority of his earnings come through a shoe deal. And similar to Klay, D-Wade's also taken a different path. Signing with Chinese company Li-Ning in 2012 not only gives him millions of dollars annually but it's also a company he has an equity stake in.

He also continues to make appearances with his deals with Hublot, New Era and Gatorade.

#6 Kyrie Irving - $17 Million

New Orleans Pelicans v Boston Celtics
Kyrie Irving

Major Sponsors - Nike, Footlocker, Pepsi, 2K Sports and Panini

Now, Kyrie Irving's impact and marketability is not at the same level as LeBron but among the slightly younger generation, it's him and Stephen Curry leading the charge.

That's why Kyrie has deals with multiple popular brands excluding Nike - Pepsi, 2K Sports and Footlocker. His signature sneaker line with Nike, in terms of sales, is second only to LeBron's. His Pepsi-funded "Uncle Drew" web series has now been made into a movie, to which he owns half of the rights. The company even put him and Uncle Drew on it's iconic Wheaties cereal boxes.

He was the cover athlete of the NBA 2K 18 with covers published with him both in the Cleveland Cavaliers as well as Boston Celtics jerseys.

#5 James Harden - $18 Million

2018 NBA Awards Show
2018 NBA Awards Show

Major Sponsors - BodyArmor, Beats Electronics, Adidas, Electronic Arts, Foot Locker, State Farm

The 2017-18 league MVP James Harden checks into the list at No. 5.

After signing up Lillard, Adidas made their agenda clear by making Harden the face of their NBA campaign. They might not be able to overtake Nike's brand in the NBA landscape but they were certainly going to make a dent, by signing Harden to a 13-year deal worth more than $200 million.

The Bearded One, currently at the peak of his career, is enjoying the spotlight. Having an identity like "The Beard" and a game to back that talk, Harden is among the most marketable stars in the league right now as can be seen with the number of deals he has with companies.

#4 Russell Westbrook - $19 Million

Oklahoma City Thunder v Utah Jazz - Game Six
Russell Westbrook

Major Sponsors - Nike, PepsiCo, Samsung Electronics, True Religion Apparel

Since KD left Oklahoma City Thunder, it's helped Russell Westbrook's game on the court and his image off it. He became the sole face of the franchise, on the court that led to him winning the 2017 league MVP award and off the court, he became a face for various brands that wanted to use image and goodwill in the community to their advantage.

His off-court earnings received a huge boost last year when he inked a 10-year extension deal with Nike's Jordan Brand. Jordan Brand had previously released Westbrook inspired lifestyle signature shoes but last years' WhyNot Zer0.1 was his first performance-based signature sneaker.

He might not make it to the Top 3 of this list in any of the coming years but he's a sure-shot to be on the list as a face of a small market franchise in the Thunder.

#3 Kevin Durant - $32 Million

Golden State Warriors Kevin Durant
Kevin Durant

Major Sponsors - Nike, Alaska Air Group, Panini and Beats Electronics

Kevin Durant is not only a great addition to the Warriors from a talent standpoint but also financially where he makes a huge sacrifice for the organizations. Now, what he will command for the 2018-19 season is yet to be seen but the previous two seasons, he's taken far lesser than the max that he can command. A lot of that has got to do with it with earnings off the court.

This past year, he received $32 million dollars through endorsements, while his playing salary was lesser at $25 million. As mentioned above, multiple brands like Alaska Air Group and Beats Electronics contribute to his earnings but the major money coming in is from Nike and his "Durant Company", a company he opened with his business partner Rick Kleiman.

He receives more than eight figures from Nike on an annual basis. In addition to that, the "Durant Company" has multiple investments, which also seem to give him profitable returns.

#2 Stephen Curry - $42 Million

2018 NBA Finals - Game Three
Stephen Curry

Major Sponsors - Under Armour, Chase, Nissan Motor and eHi Car Rental

Unlike KD, Stephen Curry has done his bit of sacrificing financially in his previous contract (4 years, $44 million). So, in 2017 when he was a free agent, the Golden State Warriors threw everything possible at him, offering him the max of 5 years and $201 million.

That contract made him the highest paid player in the league this past season and still he earns more via his endorsements. His biggest sponsors have already been mentioned and in addition, he also has deals with Brita, Bubble, Vivo and JBL. However, it's quite clear that Curry's partnership with Under Armour has been his most influential and most beneficial.

He might not rank at the top of the list but UA trusted in him and together they were able to make the brand a legitimate one in the basketball sneaker universe. He also owns some amount of equity in the company.

The 2-time league MVP will stay on this list for years to come. He recently partnered with Jeron Smith and Erick Peyton to start a production company named Unanimous Productions, which will look to develop and produce film and television projects with a focus on family, faith, and sports themes. This is bound to get more money coming Steph's way in the future.

#1 LeBron James - $52 Million

NBA All-Star Game 2018
LeBron James

Major Sponsors - Beats Electronics, Coca-Cola (Sprite), Intel, KIA Motors and Nike

Was there ever a doubt about this?

LeBron James is the greatest basketball player right now. He is the most active basketball player in the community through his LeBron James Family Foundation but in the midst of it all, he has also built himself a business empire.

He owns his own production company (Springhill Entertainment) and media company (Uninterrupted). His 2% stake in Liverpool, which he contributed in 2011, has matured to more than five times. He was an early investor in Blaze, a pizza chain, and his investor group owns 17 of the company's fastest-growing franchises.

His sneaker sales with Nike, who he's signed a lifetime deal with worth around $1 billion dollars, are the best among any active players. You could literally argue whether his off-court or on-court achievements are greater especially considering the financial condition his family was in before he joined the league.

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